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Utah Legislature embracing high-tech communications

SALT LAKE CITY — As the 2010 Legislature convenes Monday, politicians, lobbyists and concerned citizens will flock to the Capitol.

Advances in communication, however, now allow Utahns to get involved in the ensuing flurry of politicking without making a pilgrimage to Salt Lake City.

The technological revolution of the past decade allows citizens to be connected in ways that will reshape government, said Ric Cantrell, chief deputy of the Senate.

"In some ways, I don't think we ever fully won the American Revolution," he said. "New media will allow for fully educated and engaged citizens as originally envisioned by the Founding Fathers."

Cantrell has pushed the state Senate to innovate and develop cutting-edge communication resources for people.

Traditional news outlets such as the Deseret News and its companion Web site continue to provide up-to-the-minute coverage of the legislative session, but other communication resources now provide for additional citizen engagement.

The official Utah Legislature Web site, le.utah.gov, provides a daily calendar of committee meetings and floor debates.

Contact information is available on the site as well, giving people a chance to e-mail, call or write lawmakers.

Thanks to live streaming audio and video options, people can listen to or watch various meetings and news conferences, depending on availability. Archived audio recordings of past meetings are also available.

People can search for and track bills, receive e-mail updates, subscribe to an RSS feed and find biographical information about legislators.

For voters in training, the kids' page offers civic involvement tips, as well as educational games.

The Senate's Web site provides more opportunity for engagement with a Twitter feed, text-message updates, a YouTube channel and a Webcam that users can use to watch a live video feed of the Senate chamber.

Although less tech-savvy than the Senate's site, the House of Representatives' Web site also provides links to information on representatives, bills, committees and more.

Beyond the official Web sites, both Senate Republicans and Democrats operate blogs with information from party leadership and resources for constituents. Several individual legislators write their own blogs, as well.

One of those legislators, Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, organized a new-media training event for state officials.

"It is really important for state leaders to understand this new technology," he said.

Lawmakers are also increasingly turning to social media Web sites, such as Facebook, to get their messages out.

On the other side, such sites provide a forum for opposition groups that sometimes target specific legislators or causes, adding a new aspect to the traditional give-and-take of Utah politics.

e-mail: jsmith@desnews.com